This blog is likely to inspire a deep yet dormant intuitive knowing that we all have buried within us. The knowing that we are not alone…nor do we have to solve the many riddles of life by ourselves. The understanding that we are literally surrounded by genius as a result of 3.8 billion years of research and development from the natural world.
What does this have to do with home design? EVERYTHING! The natural world is part and parcel to your home. Though we might acknowledge the raw materials required for construction, we have failed to recognize that nature has a far more valuable resource to offer: an entire database of design solutions ready to be used as design templates.
How can we access this database to shift the paradigm of home design that allows the genius of the natural world to inform our design strategies for homes that are higher performing, happier, healthier, harmonious, and more beautiful? The principles of biomimicry give us the answers.
In this third post of the Regenerative Design series, I discuss the principles of biomimicry taught to us by Mother Earth with specific examples of groundbreaking biomimetic designs currently being used.
Mother Nature has the blueprints
to many of our design solutions.
Innovation Inspired by Nature
In the words of Janine Benyus, we are not the first ones to build homes. We are not the first ones to optimize space or try to heat and cool or waterproof a structure. And we’re not the first ones to manufacture either. The natural world has been testing design strategies since the advent of life on this planet, 3.8 billion years ago. In that time, life has figured out what works and what doesn’t. The organisms who have passed the rigorous design tests of evolution are our biological elders with blueprints for the way things should be built if they’re to last.
In 1997, scientist and author Janine Benyus coined the term biomimicry in her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. She eloquently points out that “life creates conditions conducive to life.” She suggests we take a closer look at the way we’re living on this planet and recognize that we seem to be the only organisms who are not following the universal principles of life. She reminds that we are a very young species and instead of trying to invent everything from scratch ourselves, we can turn to our elders and take our cues from the natural world.
In 2000, she co-founded the Biomimicry Guild with Dr. Dayna Baumeisiter, now Biomimicry 3.8 – a nod to the 3.8 billion years that life has been evolving to meet the challenges of life on Earth. Together they also co-founded the Biomimicry Institute and have since partnered with Arizona State University to ensure these principles of life found their way into higher education, serving as the foundation for inspiring innovation across all fields.
Those who walk the biomimicry path are scientists, engineers, and designers who have chosen to step outside the confines of traditional industry to become nature's apprentices. When presented with a challenge they turn to life’s operating manual to glean the lessons already learned and integrated.
Key Principles from Life’s Operating Manual
We were so fortunate to have some one-on-one time with Maria O’Farrell, biologist and researcher at Biomimicry 3.8, in Raleigh. She explained that life operates with a few key principles and the more closely we can adhere to these principles the more effective, efficient, and regenerative our homes will be.
1. Life runs on current sunlight, with the exception of a few highly specialized organisms that derive their energy from sulfur vents in the deep dark ocean.
We run on fossil fuels, which is ancient plant life that photosynthesized sunlight from a long-forgotten past.
2. Life does its chemistry in water with ambient temperatures and ambient pressures. Life uses about 6 safe elements to create only a handful of polymers like chitin, collagen, and keratin.
We tend to use extremely high temperatures with a lot of force and very toxic solvents. We use every element on the periodic table (including the toxic ones) and every time we need a new function, we create a new plastic (currently over 350 plastic polymers).
3. Life depends on local expertise. Organisms have to understand their places in order to know their limits and be able to take the opportunities offered by their habitat. They are deeply in tune with the changing seasons and the resources available to them.
We source things from all around the world using tremendous amounts of energy to source foods far from peak ripeness and goods made with non-local materials. This leaves us nutrient deficient and disconnected from the places we call home.
4. Life banks on diversity and rewards cooperation. Nothing is in isolation in natural systems. Life knows that diversity strengthens the ecosystem and cooperation is required for the success of all species.
We have a lot to learn about the benefits of diversity and cooperation, not only within our own species, but inclusion of all other species of the planet as well.
5. Life wastes nothing and it upcycles everything. Life uses only what it needs, and it builds to shape using additive construction.
We tend to cut things down, carve out only the pieces we want, and throw away the rest.
6. Life does not foul its home. Life creates conditions conducive to life and assures the success of its offspring by taking care of the place that’s going to take care of future generations.
As a very young species, we have done a large amount of damage to our earth home in an evolutionarily short amount of time.
Click HERE to learn about “Life’s Principles: Biomimicry DesignLens” created by Biomimicry 3.8 as their guiding standards for design.
Design Blueprints from Nature
Maria pointed out that a couple common species you’ve likely heard about a million times happen to have some blueprints that could “evolutionize” design.
Lotus Plant Inspired Paint
Leaves of the lotus plant are self-cleaning which allows the plant to continue peak photosynthesis even in its swampy habitat. The surface of the lotus leaf is waxy with tiny bumps that create peaks. Dirt particles cannot adhere to the surface. Instead, they kind of teeter on the tops of the peaks. When it rains, rainwater balls up on the surface and picks up the dirt as it rolls off. This is known as the lotus effect.
This “evolutionary” blueprint has inspired designers and manufacturers looking for a better way to clean without using phosphates or chemicals. A paint manufacturer Sto Corp has created StoColor® Lotusan® coating, an exterior wall coating for concrete, stucco, masonry and EIFS with the same technology as the lotus leaf.
Imagine a home with an exterior that always looks as fresh as the day it was painted, requiring no more than the natural rain that falls from the sky to keep it looking brand new. Check out this short video that shows the shocking difference between StoColor® Lotusan® coating and a regularly painted exterior.
Gecko Inspired Adhesive
The feet of the gecko are constructed to defy gravity and be able to adhere to nearly any surface. Millions of tiny hairs called setae braced by stiff tendons attached to their toepads is the blueprint for what is known as “gecko adhesion.”
This blueprint has been followed by scientists and students at UMassAmherst to create Geckskin™ that very well may become the adhesive and nails of the future. Geckskin™ uses a drape technology that allows it to adhere to any surface with any shape. Geckskin™ is so powerful that an index-card sized piece can hold 700 pounds on a smooth surface, such as glass, yet can be easily released, and leaves no residue.
Imagine being able to hang large heavy pieces of artwork, shelving, home theater screens, or televisions using a small amount of Geckskin™ that’s nontoxic and leaves no holes in the walls.
Abalone Shell Inspired Framing
The beautiful iridescent parts of an abalone shell, known as mother-of-pearl, happens to be constructed of a miracle material rendering the shell almost unbreakable. The abalone shell is made of thousands of layers of hard discs made from calcium carbonate connected to one another with a flexible porous mortar called nacre. Nacre is made of a protein adhesive that’s strong enough to hold the layers together, while weak enough to allow some movement between layers. The movement absorbs the energy of a forceful blow and makes it incredibly resistant to cracks.
This blueprint is being used by researchers at Berkely to construct ceramic structural materials that are lightweight and nearly indestructible. Imagine a home with framing so strong it can withstand hurricane force winds.
Just Ask Nature
The above are just a few examples of the miraculous species with design insight. In reality, every species has something to teach us.
The team at The Biomimicry Institute wanted to find a way to make the extensive database of nature’s blueprints easily accessible to ALL innovators at the TIME of innovation, right when this information can be utilized most.
They created AskNature, a free digital library of biological solutions for everything from energy conservation to food production. This beautiful and interactive website allows you to just simply ask nature it’s solution to any challenge. Or you can find inspiration from different species of interest to see what you might be able to learn from, say, a seahorse, or a peacock mantis shrimp, or even a naked mole rat.
Stay tuned for our next blog where I dive even deeper into regenerative design and discuss the three levels of biomimicry.
I intend you turn to our biological elders for blueprints to your design challenges.
Inspired by you,
Jenny Pippin, CPBD, FAIBD, CGP
Pippin Home Designs
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I am Jenny Pippin, founder of Pippin Home Designs and creator of my own inspired living. I grew up as an ordinary southern girl, working in the fields of my family’s tobacco farm. It didn’t take me long to realize I had greater gifts and so I chose to step into my power and create my own path in life, inspired by my heart’s true passion. (More on my personal story HERE!)